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The Ticking Time Bomb

Pakistan is losing groundwater at a rate of 1 metre per year, the daily Dawn reported. If the government does not take action, Pakistan will run out of water by 2025, Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) issued warning to the government. Pakistan’s per capita water availability has declined to 908 cubic metres, placing Pakistan on the threshold of being a water-scarce country, the daily Nation reported. Per capita designed live water-storage capacity available in Pakistan is 121 cubic metres per person which is higher than Ethiopia only, UN Development Programme reported in its December 2016 report. These are but a few reports that unequivocally signal the imminent threat of water insecurity that would devastate our agriculture and wreak havoc on our industries. Pakistan’s journey from a water-abundant country in 1950 to a water-stressed one today is painful and calls for remedial measures on a war footing as a former IRSA chairman, Mohammad Raqib Khan, had implored the government to freeze all PSDP, impose water emergency and utilize all state resources in developing infrastructure for water storage.

Water is not only for life … water is life. This statement by the Secretary-General of the United Nations underscores the importance of water for socioeconomic development of a country. The importance of water increases manifold in countries like Pakistan where economies are agrarian and depend heavily on the sustainable availability of water to spur economic growth and development.

Agriculture is the lifeline of Pakistan’s economy; accounting for 19.5 percent of the gross domestic product, employing 42.3 percent of the labour force and providing raw material for several value-added sectors. In addition to its fundamental importance in agriculture, the sustained flow of surface water in the Indus River and its tributaries is crucial also for power-generation. Out of our energy mix, about 29.4 percent of total power is being generated from environment-friendly hydel sources. Water security is essential for halting seawater intrusion, conservation of flora and fauna in the Indus Basin and regeneration and protection of riparian forests. This vitality of availability of water in national development warrants thorough discussion so as to highlight the underlying factors that are responsible for looming doomsday-like scenario.

Tremendous stress on both demand and supply sides is causing shortage of water. On the supply side, the climate change and its repercussions in the form of erratic monsoon patterns, floods and droughts, the unregulated and unchecked exploitation of groundwater – we are extracting 50 to 55 million acre feet (MAF) groundwater annually – limited storage capacity due to poor and dilapidated infrastructure for water storage – we have yet to construct any mega hydro reservoir since the commissioning of Mangla and Tarbela in 1967 and 1970’s respectively – and centuries-old unlined canal system that is causing a colossal loss of 24MAF from canal head to farm gate are compounding the issue of water availability in Pakistan. The already limited water resources are also being rendered unfit for domestic, agricultural and industrial consumption due to unhindered mixing of contaminated agricultural runoff, untreated industrial effluents and household waste in rivers and canals.

On the demand side, hydel sources in Pakistan are facing extreme pressure due to rapid population growth, water-intensive farming practices, unregulated industrialization and fast-paced urbanization. Due to unbridled population growth, we will face 1.6 times rise in demand for water for domestic use. Water-intensive farming practice such as plantation of sugarcane and rice and growing of 2-3 crops per year is complicating the water-availability issue. For the past two and a half decades, the policymakers have been struggling to cope with the issues of water supply and contamination of water due to industrial effluents. Owing to these reasons, we are on the verge of becoming a water-deficient nation as the supply of water is decreasing amidst a growing demand.

The shortage of water would have far-reaching implications at domestic as well as international level. The water-scarcity-driven repercussions would be wide-ranging and could pose threat to national security, interprovincial harmony, social and economic growth and law and order situation.

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